American Heritage School, which bills itself as the nation's number-one private school based on its number of National Merit Scholars, has two campuses in South Florida: one in Plantation and one in Delray Beach.
Athletes at the two campuses consider each other rivals. But players on the girls' basketball teams at each school weren't able to compete last week when a scheduled matchup was canceled at the last minute — and some believe that's because of a dustup involving the Black Lives Matter movement.
At a game on December 4, two players on the Heritage Delray team — freshman point guard Khadee Hession and junior forward Jordana Codio — wore Black Lives Matter shirts before the team faced off against the Benjamin School, according to reporting by the Palm Beach Post. The shirts were a response to a person who signed into a Heritage virtual class last month under the username "Blacks smell."
Eric Schwartzreich, an attorney for American Heritage School, says the school did not have the authority to discipline the user because the person does not attend Heritage.
"We do not tolerate racism. If the racial slur came from one of our students, they would be disciplined immediately," Schwartzreich tells New Times.
Although the Heritage Delray and Heritage Plantation teams are rivals, girls' basketball players at both schools planned to wear Black Lives Matter shirts before their matchup on December 10. But on the morning of the game, the schools' athletic directors said they were calling off the game because of concerns about COVID-19.
Some players believe the COVID explanation was pretextual and that the school simply did not want the Black Lives Matter shirts on display. Brett Studley, head coach of the Heritage Delray team, said on Twitter that the girls' basketball program "has not had any COVID cases this season."
And DSBG Basketball Workouts owner Danny Lopez, who trains players on the Heritage Delray team, tells New Times that members of the team had practiced together in the days leading up to the game.
"I have been in contact with everybody. No one has had COVID," Lopez asserts.
The decision to cancel the game angered some students and parents who posted their criticisms on social media. In response, Heritage Delray again said the cancellation was due to COVID, not the shirts.
"The girls' basketball team was neither suspended nor punished in any way, and the game was not canceled due to the fact that they were wearing the BLM shirts but rather because of concerns about COVID-19," the school commented on its Facebook page.
Asked to elaborate, Schwartzreich told New Times that the game was canceled because of unspecified COVID issues that he could not disclose owing to concerns about student confidentiality. Despite the many rumors going around about the cancellation, he says, the decision was made to ensure the school community is kept safe.
"We are living in unprecedented times," Schwartzreich says. "Decisions need to be made for health reasons. [That's] the only reason why the game was canceled."
He adds that no students have been suspended or expelled for supporting Black Lives Matter — and he says Heritage considers those rumors defamatory.
Private schools throughout South Florida have grappled with the effects of this past summer's Black Lives Matter protests and students' calls to address racism in the classroom. One of those schools was Heritage Plantation, where students wrote an open letter signed by hundreds of alumni demanding that the school condemn systemic racism and work to become more inclusive. (According to American Heritage School's promotional materials, only 10 percent of its students are Black; the majority are white or Hispanic.)
Also at Heritage Plantation in 2018, then-senior basketball player Cyrus Nance was expelled after cursing at the varsity girls' basketball head coach, Greg Farias. Former Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade, whose son Zaire and nephew Dahveon Morris attended Heritage, helped Nance, who is Black, hire civil-rights attorney Benjamin Crump to contest the punishment, which Nance believed was too harsh.
In the most recent example of racial discord, players with the WNBA have defended the Heritage players who wore the Black Lives Matter T-shirts. Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart, Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud, and Indiana Fever guard Erica Wheeler took to Instagram to praise the girls' courage and to demand an explanation from the administration at both schools.
Florida state Rep. Omari Hardy, a Democrat from West Palm Beach, also issued a statement demanding that both schools address the teams' concerns about racism on campus.
"The administration of American Heritage-Delray and American Heritage-Plantation should listen to these young ladies and then address the concerns about the systemic racism that they and their families have brought forward," Hardy said in a press release. "They should also stop what appears to be an intimidation campaign and allow these young women to express their support for racial progress and reconciliation within the bounds of civil discourse."
After a racist incident in class, American Heritage b-ball standouts, @jordanacodio & @khadeehession, wore #BlackLivesMatter shirts to their next game. Administrators pressured them to stop. When they refused, they found that their next game had been cancelled. ????????— Rep. Omari Hardy (@OmariJHardy) December 15, 2020
My statement: pic.twitter.com/fSvEYyAYtU
Studley, the head coach of the Heritage Delray team, tweeted in solidarity with his players, saying Black Lives Matter is "#notpolitical."
On Tuesday night, the Heritage Delray girls' basketball team played the team from Miami Country Day School. They warmed up in their Black Lives Matter shirts.
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